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The Politics of Design: A (Not So) Global Design Manual for Visual Communication

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Many designs that appear in today's society will circulate and encounter audiences of many different cultures and languages. With communication comes responsibility; are designers aware of the meaning and impact of their work? An image or symbol that is acceptable in one culture can be offensive or even harmful in the next. A typeface or colour in a design might appear to Many designs that appear in today's society will circulate and encounter audiences of many different cultures and languages. With communication comes responsibility; are designers aware of the meaning and impact of their work? An image or symbol that is acceptable in one culture can be offensive or even harmful in the next. A typeface or colour in a design might appear to be neutral, but its meaning is always culturally dependent. If designers learn to be aware of global cultural contexts, we can avoid stereotyping and help improve mutual understanding between people. Politics of Design is a collection of visual examples from around the world. Using ideas from anthropology and sociology, it creates surprising and educational insight in contemporary visual communication. The examples relate to the daily practice of both online and offline visual communication: typography, images, colour, symbols, and information. Politics of Design shows the importance of visual literacy when communicating beyond borders and cultures. It explores the cultural meaning behind the symbols, maps, photography, typography, and colours that are used every day. It is a practical guide for design and communication professionals and students to create more effective and responsible visual communication.


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Many designs that appear in today's society will circulate and encounter audiences of many different cultures and languages. With communication comes responsibility; are designers aware of the meaning and impact of their work? An image or symbol that is acceptable in one culture can be offensive or even harmful in the next. A typeface or colour in a design might appear to Many designs that appear in today's society will circulate and encounter audiences of many different cultures and languages. With communication comes responsibility; are designers aware of the meaning and impact of their work? An image or symbol that is acceptable in one culture can be offensive or even harmful in the next. A typeface or colour in a design might appear to be neutral, but its meaning is always culturally dependent. If designers learn to be aware of global cultural contexts, we can avoid stereotyping and help improve mutual understanding between people. Politics of Design is a collection of visual examples from around the world. Using ideas from anthropology and sociology, it creates surprising and educational insight in contemporary visual communication. The examples relate to the daily practice of both online and offline visual communication: typography, images, colour, symbols, and information. Politics of Design shows the importance of visual literacy when communicating beyond borders and cultures. It explores the cultural meaning behind the symbols, maps, photography, typography, and colours that are used every day. It is a practical guide for design and communication professionals and students to create more effective and responsible visual communication.

30 review for The Politics of Design: A (Not So) Global Design Manual for Visual Communication

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    There is not enough literature about the intersection of design and politics, so I had high hopes for this "(Not So) Global Manual". The Politics of Design is full of single-page anecdotes, and feels more like a collection of lightly-researched blog posts than a serious printed reference. Most of the book is dedicated to pointing out cultural and political missteps that have been made by designers in the past, but there are no guiding principles to link these stories together into something acti There is not enough literature about the intersection of design and politics, so I had high hopes for this "(Not So) Global Manual". The Politics of Design is full of single-page anecdotes, and feels more like a collection of lightly-researched blog posts than a serious printed reference. Most of the book is dedicated to pointing out cultural and political missteps that have been made by designers in the past, but there are no guiding principles to link these stories together into something actionable that designers today can use to improve their own work. The book ends abruptly after one anecdote, without a conclusion. There are several typos, printed references to pages on Wikipedia, and pages where text color contrast almost certainly does not meet minimum accessibility requirements—a spectacular oversight for a book that dedicates an entire section to color and contrast. Overall, formatting feels sloppy: text is misaligned, margins are painfully tiny, fonts and colors seem chosen at random... I can't tell if this is brutalism or just poor design. All that said, I did learn a few new things, and the entire book can be read in one sitting. I'd like to see a second version of The Politics of Design that approaches these topics more seriously, backed by more research, and with more consideration toward the design of the book itself.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sérgio Ferreira

    Great handbook on the politics of creating designs, giving foresight into all aspects of the profession: type, image and layout construction. Focus a lot on arabic problematics and how graphic design in the so-called West doesn't necessarily fit into other places' different cultural aspects.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Rossi

    Easy to read collection of anecdotes and examples about the fact that design is inherently not neutral or universal. The book doesn't go deep into the topic, but does a good job at making the reader more aware

  4. 5 out of 5

    Micky

    This book is not useful to anyone wanting to learn about design. The book is merely a series of random snippets on, for example, how capital letters are sexist and maps are racist. Not surprising, cultural Marxists believe everything created by white men is sexist, racist and every other -ist you can think of. It's all the usual multi-cultural, pro-immigration, anti-capitalism, anti-white propaganda. The author states up front that he is political; of course he doesn't state which side he is on, This book is not useful to anyone wanting to learn about design. The book is merely a series of random snippets on, for example, how capital letters are sexist and maps are racist. Not surprising, cultural Marxists believe everything created by white men is sexist, racist and every other -ist you can think of. It's all the usual multi-cultural, pro-immigration, anti-capitalism, anti-white propaganda. The author states up front that he is political; of course he doesn't state which side he is on, but is obviously far-Left. My spidey senses were already tingling when I saw his name, Ruben Pater (every single time?). I found his Twitter and unsurprisingly he is a supporter of Antifa, a global terrorist organisation who dress up in black outfits, wear masks to cover their faces, and organise in large numbers to physically assault anyone who opposes immigration. Some of their other activities include throwing urine balloons and smashing skulls open with bike locks. Thankfully I picked up this book for free. Normally I give unwanted books to charity, but this book was torn to pieces and went straight into the trash.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Maya Man

    This book should be called something else because the title is misleading maybe something more like expanding the way you think about design? But overall was enjoyable to read it's a bunch of super (super) short snippets of knowledge on topics ranging from typography to color to images to diversity. It wasn't that well written imo but had some cool references to past major errors and miscommunications across cultures in design or to studies exposing differences in the way we perceive symbols and This book should be called something else because the title is misleading maybe something more like expanding the way you think about design? But overall was enjoyable to read it's a bunch of super (super) short snippets of knowledge on topics ranging from typography to color to images to diversity. It wasn't that well written imo but had some cool references to past major errors and miscommunications across cultures in design or to studies exposing differences in the way we perceive symbols and images around the world. Like the image with the storm going in a direction determined by the direction you read or the unfortunate translations of product names to other languages. So... COOL for sure would recommend as a quick fun fact read but I don't think it lives up to it's graaaaaaaand title.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Worth

    The idea behind this book is important but unfortunately, its production quality undermines its value as a critical text. I really enjoyed the breadth of research but it is as if the content was published too early in its development – with blatant grammatical errors and missing or misplaced references. Brief advisory sentences are tagged onto the end of some, but not all, articles, which felt inadequate and inconsistent. The book ends abruptly, without any concluding statement to weave the thre The idea behind this book is important but unfortunately, its production quality undermines its value as a critical text. I really enjoyed the breadth of research but it is as if the content was published too early in its development – with blatant grammatical errors and missing or misplaced references. Brief advisory sentences are tagged onto the end of some, but not all, articles, which felt inadequate and inconsistent. The book ends abruptly, without any concluding statement to weave the threads of research together into a strong, actionable argument. Despite its errors, I would still recommend it as mandatory reading for BA design students.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alten

    Interesting collection of short essays about design related topics like typography, colors, photography. Unfortunately every essay is just one or two pages long, so everything is on a pretty superfical level. While some texts are inspiring and even surprising, some of them are just disappointing ("Color psychology" to name one). The chapter about typography was the most interesting one in my opinion, especially the essays "Arabic Adaption of Latin Logotypes" and "Ethnic Typography". Every now and Interesting collection of short essays about design related topics like typography, colors, photography. Unfortunately every essay is just one or two pages long, so everything is on a pretty superfical level. While some texts are inspiring and even surprising, some of them are just disappointing ("Color psychology" to name one). The chapter about typography was the most interesting one in my opinion, especially the essays "Arabic Adaption of Latin Logotypes" and "Ethnic Typography". Every now and then I have to think about them - the last time was when I was standing in front of a book store, where I saw Sebastião Salgado's "Africa" (the letters were set in Papyrus).

  8. 5 out of 5

    Masha Maltseva

    great handbook that relates design with politics through culture appropriation, rasism and feminism and whole domination of western culture. read a tone of interesting facts: - now i know that my decapitated manner of writing was initially introduced by bauhaus - not all people in the world use colours - this is probably 10th time i read this fact and still shocked that all our white and beautiful ancient marble statues were initially coloured and not that beautiful. here also stand my idea of the b great handbook that relates design with politics through culture appropriation, rasism and feminism and whole domination of western culture. read a tone of interesting facts: - now i know that my decapitated manner of writing was initially introduced by bauhaus - not all people in the world use colours - this is probably 10th time i read this fact and still shocked that all our white and beautiful ancient marble statues were initially coloured and not that beautiful. here also stand my idea of the beauty o the unfinished works - not all cultures can read picture and text together - in some cultures picture of single person is read as sad and abandonned people sometimes are really dumb - in 20001 US dropped and the same time bombs and packages with food over Afghanistan. and guess what? they look very very much alike. - integration campaign for migrants in amsterdam inviting people to lear dutch. guess what language was used? of course the dutch one. - pro bono campaign for indigenous people in mexico used b&w picture like the way western people think about indigenous. they themselves live very colourful lives instead, so the campaign was totally ignored by them. and many more, great and easy reading

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jamie from The Doer Co

    There's not a lot of offerings on the intersectionality of design and culture/politics. Although this book is a collection of articles on these topics (and none in particular goes into MUCH depth on it's area of focus), I learned a lot. I enjoy the layout of the book because it reminds me of the way my brain ties all of these concepts together. There was one graphic in particular illustrating the global organization power hierarchy that is worth reading this book alone for. Overall a great read There's not a lot of offerings on the intersectionality of design and culture/politics. Although this book is a collection of articles on these topics (and none in particular goes into MUCH depth on it's area of focus), I learned a lot. I enjoy the layout of the book because it reminds me of the way my brain ties all of these concepts together. There was one graphic in particular illustrating the global organization power hierarchy that is worth reading this book alone for. Overall a great read for anyone interested in history, marketing, linguistics, or culture. (Bonus if you're into all of them.)

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ronan Mcdonnell

    As a designer, every thing we put out there has an impact, a meaning, and an intention. Try we might the intention can be muddied and the piece in question have more than one reading. This book is a survey of how design stands in a global world, how it can be more inclusive and considerate. In short, how design can be more rigorous. It's an excellent book, and should be required reading for any message makers.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Celia Yost

    This is a good little primer on the topic. It's more of a series of talking points than anything else--every page could have easily been a full chapter if not a full book--but I think that was probably the author's goal and to be fair there's a list of further reading included. It was also nice to get the viewpoint of an author/designer who isn't American, if nothing else it shifted the selection of exampled used a bit.

  12. 5 out of 5

    David Bjelland

    What happens when you try to condense a coffee-table book into the size of a chapbook. A writing style that feels sort of like a series of opening paragraphs from wikipedia pages. A few compelling, unique ideas buried among the completely-obvious-to-anyone-who-has-ever-thought-about-design-and-culture-at-roughly-the-same-time ones. Some dryly ironic juxtaposed images (which the text itself either brilliantly or frustratingly under-comments on, depending on your preferences)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lydia Nguyen

    I really appreciate everything about this book - how it is designed (ha), how it is a collaboration of efforts and conglomeration of examples from all around the world, how it presents so much critical thought... I really recommend this to all those interested in design x visual communication x language x (production of) culture.

  14. 5 out of 5

    sarah semark

    A great series of introductory anecdotes to start thinking critically about design in a more inclusive context. Could have used some more in-depth material or pieces to connect all the threads together. Generally really nicely designed, although the lack of whitespace and sometimes aggressive use of colour could make it difficult to read at times.

  15. 4 out of 5

    RestlessChildCZ

    A collection of examples of how politics, culture, the legacy of colonialism and design (everything from typography to photos) intertwine. Light and fascinating read, doesn't go to deep into topics but gives a nice overview. It's a great conversation starter, thought provoker with colourful pictures.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bahadirhan

    It gives good perspective about how we created today's society and how many normalised things are actually source of discrimination and many other problems. I haven't thought about about visual communication before. Therefore, i find it pretty interesting and valuable. There are many points to discuss and think over. It can be also great source for teenagers to widen their perspective.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    Fascinating book that explores politics, linguistics, psychology, and a slew of other topics through the lens of design. Each chapter is concise and provides a nice introduction for a variety of subjects. Highly recommend

  18. 5 out of 5

    L

    By no means exhaustive or complete but a highly interesting collection of various examples and topics of „political design“ that invited the reader to go ahead and dig deeper on a specific topic elsewhere if they want to

  19. 5 out of 5

    Niloy Mukherjee

    The Politics of Design is a revelatory exploration of the political and cultural context of the images, colors and typography that shape our world. The book will better inform how you understand and look beyond the obvious when it comes to the symbols and graphics of our society.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    I’m sure much more could now be written on the subject - a lot of the examples felt like basic ones that I’d already read about online, which was slightly disappointing. That said, it’s really useful to have all of the research out together in one place and in a very clear way.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

    It’s nowhere near comprehensive, and declaratively does not claim to be. But it’s an accessible, thought-provoking survey of some of the common elements of design that ably demonstrates how all design choices are political and communicate cultural meaning.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Els

    Very interesting ! I especially liked the phrase 'female horse stuffed with wax', the Chinese name for coca cola in 1928.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jordan Armstrong

    Good cursory coverage of political implications of graphic design.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tim Belonax

    The book provides many starting points for one’s further investigation into specifics around design and politics but fails to tie its references together into a clear conclusion.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kerry

    Like reading someone’s blog. Not a bad blog, but still lacked the depth I was hoping for.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Colin Roy

    A brief primer/teaser/eye opener to the tyranny and harm design can cause.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dries

    Stunning booklet to have around and leaf through once in a while...

  28. 4 out of 5

    Amie

    common sense, didn’t learn much

  29. 5 out of 5

    Leda

    Must-read for whoever human on this planet even *considers* to create anything. Art, design, books, Facebook posts. Anything. Read this

  30. 4 out of 5

    Anya Rudenko

    I bought this book because I was curious about design. It got me even more curious )

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